Mar 04 2012

Readers’ Favorite Posts — February, 2012

SPECIAL NOTE: Be sure to look for my new article in Ad Astra (Spring, 2012): “A New Apollo-Level Space Age.”

This is an updated end-of-February list of our readers’ favorite posts, based on the number of times each post was visited during the times indicated below.

Timeframes of the readers’ lists below are: I) Favorites during February, and II) Favorites during the Last 7 days.

To see readers’ favorite posts for each previous month, click HERE.

The lists below give only the top 5 favorites in each category in order of reader preference.
All posts below are clickable and their publishing dates are given.

Updated 3/1/2012

I. FEBRUARY — Readers’ Favorites

1) Are Stratfor’s “Generational Shifts” Like “Falling Grains of Sand”? — 2/13/12
2) Parallels Between Presidents Truman and Bush Provide Insights into the Future — 4/15/10
3) Phobos — The Key to the Cosmos? Just Ask Russia and China! — 3/27/10
4) Long-Term Stock Trends Support Maslow Window Forecasts — 11/3/11
5) State of the Wave: 10 Space Trends for 2012 — 1/10/12

II. THE LAST 7 DAYS — Readers’ Favorites

1) Foreign Affairs Features the Case for Space — 2/27/12
2) The Moon is Not Enough…! — 11/22/08
3) Long-Term Stock Trends Suppport Maslow Window Forecasts — 11/3/11
4) The Allure of Moving to Mars Points to the New Space Age — 10/30/10
5) Parallels Between Presidents Truman and Bush Provide Insights into the Future — 4/15/10

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Jan 01 2012

Happy New Year and The Top 10 for 2011

Happy New Year!

PLEASE NOTE: This year’s “State of the Wave: 10 Space Trends for 2012″ will be appearing very soon! (See #9 below for 2011 trends.)

Also, be sure to catch Bruce on The Space Show on Tuesday, January 10, 2012.

Here is the Top 10 for 2011:
This is a special updated New Year’s edition of our readers’ favorite posts, based on the number of times each post was visited during 2011.

To see readers’ favorite posts for each previous month, click HERE.

The lists below give the top favorites in order of reader preference. All posts below are clickable and their publishing dates are given.

Updated 1/1/2012

THE LAST 365 DAYS (2011) — Readers’ Favorites

1) 10 Lessons the Panama Canal Teaches Us About the Human Future in Space — 5/18/09
2) The Allure of Moving to Mars Points to the New Space Age — 10/30/10
3) The Moon is Not Enough…! — 11/22/08
4) Phobos: The Key to the Cosmos? Just Ask Russia and China! — 3/27/10
5) Kepler, Watson, and Gott Point to the Rare Earth Hypothesis — 3/20/11
6) Happy Fourth of July — Independence Day! — …and Readers’ Favorite Posts — June, 2010 — 7/4/10
7) AIAA — Analyst Predicts New Space Age Coming Soon — 6/30/11
8 ) State of the Wave: Today’s Gloom & Doom, and the 2015 Boom — 8/29/10
9) State of the Wave: 10 Space Trends for 2011 — 1/23/11
10) Standard Chartered Bank’s “New Super-Cycle” Points to the New Apollo-Style Space Age — 3/5/11

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May 15 2011

Celebrating 3 Years of at ISDC 2011 in Huntsville

This week we’re celebrating our 3rd exciting year of exploring the future of space, technology, and education at!

I’d like to thank Rachel Nishimura, who is the co-founder of, for making it possible, and all the Contributing Editors who have provided invaluable advice and information over the last 3 years, as well as new colleagues who help this quest continue to grow.

Most of all I’d like to thank the readers of from around the world who’ve visited this site for a glimpse of the future. Please come back often because long-term indicators and current global trends show we’re accelerating toward a 1960′s-style transformative decade — including a new international Space Age — by 2015. And is just getting started.

This week I’m celebrating 3 years of by speaking at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2011) at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, AL. In “Economic Booms and Apollo-Style Exploration” we’ll see how rhythmic, twice-per-century 1960s-style decades over the last 200+ years culminated in humans on the Moon and point to a spectacular future…

The history of the last 200+ years – back to Lewis and Clark — shows that Apollo-style explorations and macro engineering projects emerge only during brief, twice-per-century intervals called “Maslow Windows”. They are exclusively associated with major economic booms (e.g., the 1960s Kennedy boom) and appear to be fundamentally driven by long-term business and generational cycles. During the booms, affluence-induced ebullience catapults many in society to elevated states in Maslow’s hierarchy where great explorations seem not only intriguing, but almost irresistible.

For your enjoyment, here are…
The Top 10 Readers’ Favorite Posts During Our 3rd Year:

1) The Moon is Not Enough…! — 11/22/08
2) 10 Lessons the Panama Canal Teaches Us About the Human Future in Space — 5/18/09
3) Phobos: The Key to the Cosmos? Just Ask Russia and China! — 3/27/10
4) State of the Wave: Today’s Gloom & Doom, and the 2015 Boom — 8/29/10
5) The Allure of Moving to Mars Points to the New Space Age — 10/30/10
6) A Major Economic Boom By 2015? … The Lessons of Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Obama — 7/31/10
7) State of the Wave: Why No One’s Been to the Moon in 40 Years — How Soon We’ll Go Again — 7/11/10
8 ) Kepler, Watson, and Gott Point to the Rare Earth Hypothesis — 3/20/11
9) China Surges to #2 and Contemplates More Freedom: The Implications for Space — 8/21/10
10) Space: The Fractal Frontier — How Complexity Drives Exploration — 5/1/10

Here are a couple of Honorable Mentions…

Standard Chartered Bank’s “New Super-Cycle” Points to the New Apollo-Style Space Age — 3/5/11

State of the Wave: The Maslow Window — A Brief Intro — 4/02/11

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Jan 07 2011

NASA Comments on Phobos and “Space Sustainability”

This interesting Comment by Dave Huntsman of NASA is in reference to my Space News (9/6/10) commentary on “Phobos, Key to the Cosmos? Just Ask Russia, China”.

Dave Huntsman has 35 years with NASA, including 10 years as a Senior Executive, and is with the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA HQ in Washington, D.C.

Dave Huntsman
2011/01/07 at 7:00 pm

Bruce, just re-read your article as I’m being forced to clean out my office and am re-reading Space News’ before throwing them out. Good writeup.

Within the agency we have a small but active group who tries to come up with non-standard ways of doing missions in a way that adds to space sustainability; to that end we’ve formed an Emerging Commercial Space Team with a couple of working groups, including a Beyond LEO/Lunar/NEO working group. I mention this in passing since your past work studying Phobos/NEO (I put them in the same category)-related propellant resource issues is something we tend to be interested in as well. We try to look at things with an eye towards making things economically sustainable, so that we can continue to go into space – to stay. In that, I agree that Phobos et al is much more on any type of critical path towards space sustainability than the surface of Mars is (not that going to Mars has never been far from my mind, either).

My Reply follows:
Hi Dave,
Thanks for your comment.

Coincidentally, today I had lunch in Orange County with Fred Singer who led our Phobos/Deimos Workshop at the Case for Mars III Conference in 1987.

When I joined General Dynamics in the 1980s, I got very excited about the Mars system in terms of its potential for economic sustainability. My initial idea was to retrieve water from Phobos/Deimos to the Earth-Moon system for use in NASA and/or DoD Earth orbit missions, or even on the Moon (before we knew it had some water). Even that ambitious scenario looked good, and we were funded by the GD Corporation (in addition to the San Diego Space Division).

I think the success or failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission will be a near-term fork in the road for human spacelight beyond LEO. If Russia and China can pull it off, I think they will consider sending humans to Phobos as a key step in Mars colonization. Although Buzz Aldrin — a big Phobos fan — told me last summer that he’s not as convinced as I am about this, I think it’s likely Russia and China might be tempted to join with NASA (and others) in this great exploration after 2015.

Best regards,

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Oct 27 2010

The Kwisatz Haderach of Mars

Much like the final scene in the cult favorite Dune (1984) where Paul becomes the Kwisatz Haderach by spectacularly making torrential rain and oceans appear on the desert planet, something similar is happening now with Mars. For the first time, the ancient Martian ocean is being directly revealed.

If you want to go deep on Mars, you go to Leighton crater’s central peak; it shows “one of the best exposures of deep crust seen on Mars.”
(Courtesy the University of Arizona)

Two planetary scientists — Joseph Michalski (Planetary Science Institute, Tucson and Université Paris Sud, France) and Paul Niles (NASA Johnson Space Center) — recently reported (Nature Geoscience, 10/10/10) strong evidence in the form of carbonate rocks and hydrated silicates conveniently excavated by an ancient asteroid impact.

Once upon a time Mars may have had a major liquid water ocean covering a large fraction of its surface. “Oceanus Borealis” could have filled most of the northern hemisphere basin which is 4-5 km below the mean surface level on Mars. Popular proposals for a Martian ocean go back to the early 1990s and are based on geological evidence for shorelines and abundant steam channels, plus evidence for a warmer, more Earth-like Martian climate almost 4 billion years ago.

Key macroeconomic indicators and global trends — both recent and over the last 200 years — point to a new international Space Age igniting by 2015. As the real, science-based Kwisatz Haderaches reveal growing evidence for Mars having an early major ocean, a thick atmosphere, and even habitable environments, Mars may become viewed gobally as Earth II. It will likely become the prime target for a number of major international exploration initiatives as humans surge into the cosmos.

But the major question has always been: Where are the carbonates? A water ocean would have absorbed CO2 from Mars’ atmosphere and precipitated it in the form of carbonate rocks on the ocean bottom.

As the greenhouse weakened and temperatures plummeted on Mars, its oceans froze and were eventually covered by wind-blown dust, volcanic eruptions, and impact ejecta.

However, the carbonates should still exist in some form at depth. And this is why the Michalski/Niles discovery is so important.

Leighton, a 60 km-wide crater on the western flanks of Syrtis Major volcano, presents a plethora of clues for the interplanetary sleuth. When the ancient impact occurred, the deepest rocks exhumed were exposed at the central peak, and based on terrestrial crater analogs, this bedrock was uplifted about 6 km.

New spectral evidence reveals the central peak material consists of carbonates, clays (kaolinites) and hydrated ferromagnesian silicates. The carbonates are identified by specific spectral fingerprints between 2.35 and 3.9 micrometers, and suggest the presence of calcite or siderite.

Michalski/Niles’ preferred model features carbonate sediments – presumably formed in an ancient ocean underlying a thick CO2 atmosphere – and other local materials that are buried and altered by lavas from Syrtis Major, and eventually by hydrothermal circulations…

Heat from the overlying lavas and/or magmatic sources below would have caused liberation of fluids from … hydrated phases, as well as aqueous CO2 from the carbonates.

This cocktail can produce significant methane and is the probable source for telescopically observed CH4 above Syrtis Major. Although their model provides no direct evidence for Martian life, Michalski/Niles speculate that the hydrothermal hotspots are “a high-priority site for future
exobiological exploration.”

The probable existence of ancient hydrothermal systems on Mars brings to mind an early assessment of Mars’ natural resource potential (i.e., ore bodies) that I presented at the 2nd Case for Mars Conference in July, 1984 at CU in Boulder. I identified several possible mechanisms and regions on Mars that might be capable of mineralization, and concluded that…

Nothing we know about the physics and chemistry of mineralization, ore body tectonics, or the geology of Mars precludes the existence of significant ore bodies on Mars …

Terrestrial hydrothermal, dry-magma, and sedimentary mineral concentration processes have been identified which may have operated on Mars. In particular, mineral-rich Africa seems to share many volcanic and tectonic characteristics with portions of Mars and may be suggestive of the potential mineral wealth of Mars …

Assuming that ground ice is, and has been, widespread, and that magma bodies have produced hydrothermal solutions often during the history of Mars, the Martian mining economy should be booming by the middle of the 21st century.

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Oct 14 2010

State of the Wave: ETs Surge to Center Stage

In the 1950s this might have been called a UFO “Wave”, but today it just appears that interest in extraterrestrials – some of whom might even be coming here – is the rage from China to London and of course to Hollywood.

Does our growing global fascination with extraterrestrials suggest the new international Space Age is just around the corner?

A Chinese Astronomer Says Yes
Wang Sichao, a veteran astronomer of the Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said flat out in August that “extraterrestrial beings do exist and their UFOs have the ability to visit our earth,” (Peoples’ Daily Online, 8/23/10). His statements are as unequivocal as former Apollo Moon-walking astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who has claimed for years that “…we have been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomenon is real … It has been covered up by governments for quite some time now,” (7/28/2008, ABC News).

However, Wang believes that Stephen Hawking’s recent warnings that their arrival would be a bad day for humanity are premature.

“If they are friendly to us, we can promote the human beings’ civilization through exchange and cooperation with them. If they are not, as long as we prepared for their invasion, we can beat them back based on their weaknesses. After all, they are life entities, they would show their slips,”

Obviously the professor is an optimist. Anyone with the technology to travel across interstellar distances could also make us wish they hadn’t. The classic Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man” comes to mind!

Wang’s public statements come in the wake of 8 reported UFO sightings in China since June. For example, last month an airport in Inner Mongolia was shut down for over an hour because a UFO — reportedly seen both visually and on radar — was buzzing the field.

Unknowns Lurk Everywhere
UFO sightings are not limited to China — they appear almost everywhere. A quick scan of the Mutual UFO Network website, a 40+-year-old, science-based organization, indicates that current aerial unknowns range from a silent boomerang in Boise to agile cigars in Australia.

Over the last 100+ years, a global surge in UFO/ET interest has presaged and figured prominently in each transformative Maslow Window.

For example, the ultra-ebullient Peary/Panama/T. Rosevelt Maslow Window (~1901-13) followed the founding of Lowell Observatory in Arizona to probe the “canals” on Mars. Lowell saw the canals as convincing evidence for a global Macro Engineering Project built by intelligent Martians. His public loved it and in 1907 the Wall Street Journal actually announced “…the proof by astronomical observations…that conscious, intelligent life exists upon the planet Mars,”

Likewise, early in the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, astronomer Frank Drake inaugurated the famous Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) using a radio telescope in West Virginia. Later he and Carl Sagan ebulliently asserted that a million advanced civilizations might exist in our galaxy, and in 2010 Drake reiterated his ebullient belief that it’s “only a matter of time” before we detect them. Before aligning exclusively with radio SETI, Sagan wrote a stunning, but currently obscure scientific paper (in 1962) in which he argued that advanced ETs had already visited Earth using interstellar spacecraft aided by relativistic time dilation.

If this century-plus pattern holds, we should expect global interest in ETs, UFOs, Earth-like planets, and human expansion into the cosmos to accelerate as we approach the new international Space Age around 2015.

Is Life Abundant in the Galaxy?
It’s not just UFOs that are grabbing the global public, it’s anything to do with extraterrestrials. For example, Chandra Wickramasinghe, Director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, flatly asserts that current astrophysical research “overwhelmingly” supports his theory that human life started outside of Earth; i.e., that all humans are, in fact, “aliens from outer space.”

In his recent article in the International Journal of Astrobiology, Wickramasinghe argues that the spectral signatures of interstellar dust clouds are due to “biologically derived aromatic molecules.” Thus major components of interstellar materials are actually “… degradation products of biology,” suggesting life is not rare in our galaxy.

The Royal Society Seeks Extraterrestrials
Not to be left out — following scientific meetings in 2009 at the Vatican on Extraterrestrials — the prestigious UK Royal Society has had not just one, but 2 scientific meetings in 2010 (in January and just last week) to consider if exterrestrials are here on Earth and how to properly greet them.

At the Royal Society, Professor Paul Davies of Arizona State University suggested that, contrary to the approach of radio SETI, “We need to give up the notion that ET is sending us some sort of customised message and take a new approach.”

This flurry of ET-related scientific meetings, astrophysical research, and UFO sightings occurs in the context of the exciting recent discovery of the first extrasolar planet with the potential to be genuinely Earth-like. It orbits the red dwarf star Gliese 581 and is nearby — only 20 light years away. If advanced Gliesan’s ever existed, they should be here by now.

What if ET Really Phones Home?
And finally, to complete the pop culture scene, the new movie Skyline opens November 12. It features UFOs and extraterrestrials on Earth and a Rapture-like scene that’s unforgettable. As in the 1960s Space Age, cinema is likely to play a major role in the 2015 Maslow Window.

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Sep 08 2010

Bruce’s Commentary is in Space News this Week

My Commentary, “Phobos, Key to the Cosmos? Just Ask Russia, China” appears in Space News this week (9/6/10). (See also The Articles.)

This piece follows-up on my decade space forecast of 6 months ago. I suggested that Russia and China may decide to expand their Phobos-Grunt experience (assuming it’s successful) into a joint manned Mars exploration initiative after 2015 focused initially on Phobos.

A few of my friends in the space business have interpreted this as a suggestion that we should bypass the Moon and head to Mars.

Two things: 1) I have always been very excited about the potential for expanding human civilization to Mars, but 2) my Space News piece does not advocate skipping the Moon.

The Moon is so close and has so much scientific, resource, and commercial potential that humans will want to develop it, near-term. But the smart road to Mars colonization does go through Phobos. And as the new International Space Age gains momentum after 2015, we may ebulliently decide to do both.

Thanks to Warren Ferster, Editor in Chief of Space News, for his interest in the Commentary, and also to Todd Windsor, Copy Chief of SN, for the cool look he gave it.

2 responses so far

Apr 19 2010

Obama’s New Space Policy and the Spirit of Apollo

The response to Obama’s new space policy from the Apollo program folks and the Texas Congressional delegation has been quite negative; e.g., from Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11), James Lovell (Apollo 13), and Eugene Cernan (Apollo 17), Obama’s decision to “cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating.”

On the other hand, Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11) and the space commercialization industry were more positive; e.g., Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and SpaceX, suggested it was realistic:

I think what this new policy recognizes is that NASA isn’t going to get some huge increase in its budget, as occurred in the Apollo era. So if we are to make great progress and sort of make the next giant leaps for mankind, then it has to be done in an affordable manner, and the only way to do that is by harnessing the power of free enterprise, as we use in all other modes of transport.

Can President Obama take us to Mars? Click .

And it’s possible they’re both right, but on different timescales. For example, at least in the short term, before an American replacement for the Shuttle is created, it may be “devastating” in a variety of ways, but in the longer term — when private launchers can safely deliver U.S. astronauts to the ISS and beyond — it may be financially and strategically profitable.

But rather than speculate further by focusing mainly on short-term thinking, Obama’s new space policy is an excellent opportunity to use the unique approach of, to see how the next 10-15 years could fit into the economic, technology, and geopolitical context of the last 200 years of great explorations and macro-engineering projects.

To illuminate Obama’s policy let’s ask a few questions.

I. Did Obama make an Apollo-style promise last week like that of John F. Kennedy in May, 1961?
JFK indicated that the U.S. would send a man to the Moon and return him safely “before this decade is out.”
According to U.S. News & World Report (1969), although initial cost estimates for Apollo were as high as $ 40 B — about twice the eventual cost — “Congress raised hardly any questions … (despite) disturbing domestic problems … Initial funds were appropriated swiftly to send Project Apollo on its way.”

Although President Obama has recommended that we go to Mars someday, in his policy speech he made no specific program recommendation or rationale, gave no firm timeline, and has not asked for a budget that could support a Mars initiative.

So Obama did not make a Kennedy-like commitment. But part of the reason is that Obama does not live in the economic and political world that JFK inhabited. Kennedy took office in 1961 as the greatest economic boom in history was gaining momentum, while Obama was elected during the Panic of 2008 and has governed during a “great recession.” The history of major exploration and technology programs over the last 200 years — since Lewis and Clark — shows clearly that Apollo-type projects do not flourish except during ebullient economic booms. Plus, Obama’s job approval rating ( fell from its high of 69 on 1/22/09 to 45 on 4/11/10, while JFK enjoyed his highest approval rating (83, on 3/8/62) while beginning his 2nd year; JFK’s lowest was 56 (9/12/63). Therefore, although Obama has a large majority in Congress, he does not currently possess the approval across the U.S. nor the political capital that JFK did.

II. Was the Constellation Moon Program canceled by Obama due to weak program goals?
Paul Spudis, an experienced planetary scientist and an astute leader of the return-to-the-Moon forces, remarked recently (4/16/10) that,

… one startling part of the speech was that we are abandoning the Moon as a goal …

But stop for a moment to consider exactly what President Obama said. Lunar return critics give many reasons to NOT go to the Moon: they think that it’s scientifically uninteresting, it doesn’t contain what we need, it will turn into a money sink (preventing voyages to many other destinations in space – perhaps number one on their list), that there are more pressing needs here on Earth, and I’m sure others that I haven’t yet heard. But this new space policy rationale is unique and carries with it different and significant implications for our nation’s exploration of space.

We have now added a new requirement for U.S. space missions – we must go to a place never before visited by humans.

According to Spudis, the real reason for returning to the Moon by 2020 was to begin the colonization of space by using lunar and other resources. In Spudis’ words, “the Vision for Space Exploration was strategic direction outlining a sustainable lunar return, whereby we would bootstrap our way ‘beyond’ by learning how to use the resources of the Moon and other bodies.”

Although it could have been just personalities or party politics, I began to suspect that the Moon wasn’t in our future when Mike Griffin wasn’t invited back. This was consistent with my initial impression that Obama would need to focus on repairing the economy and protecting national security, rather than charting grand visions in space. There was initially the well-advertised hope by Obama et al. that the $ 800+ B Stimulus Package would rapidly pave the way back to prosperity, and maybe that was the reason Obama didn’t favor the Moon … yet. But a year later, some of his major supporters in the economics community including Robert Shiller, “Don’t bet the farm on the housing recovery” (NY Times, 4/11/10), and Robert Reich, “The jobs picture still looks bleak” (WSJ, 4/12/10), are publicly hinting that problems will linger for a long time — as is the Federal Reserve (NY Times, 3/16/10) who left its benchmark interest rate near zero, and indicated it would likely stay there for “an extended period.”

So the real reason Constellation and the Moon were canceled by Obama is probably because he perceives no reason to continue it. In counter-ebullient times like now, the American public doesn’t have a burning desire to colonize the Moon or to pay for it. And Obama’s lack of success — so far — in creating a V-shaped, job-filled recovery indicates this situation will continue for “an extended period.”

However, Obama may be unaware that all ebullient economic booms (i.e., Maslow Windows) over the last 200+ years — except the post-WW II 1960s boom — were immediately preceded by a financial panic/great recession pair. And in fact, the Panic of 2008 signaled that we were within about 6 years of the new international Space Age.

III. Which is most important to Obama: Humans to Mars, prosperity, or the Superstar Effect?
Boris Spassky, a chess grandmaster, once said of playing Bobby Fischer — perhaps the greatest chess superstar of all time — that “When you play Bobby, it is not a question of whether you win or lose. It is a question of whether you survive.” Against Fischer even grandmasters often experienced “Fischer-fear” including “flu-like symptoms, migranes, and spiking blood pressure,” (WSJ, J. Lehrer, 4/3/10). The negative aspects of the Superstar Effect are observed in many competitive endeavors, including golf with Tiger Woods, among new associates at law firms, and probably even internationally with the United States space program.

Removing NASA from the launch business, as Obama proposes, will force the U.S. to have more respect for its space partners, and dislodge it, at least temporarily, from its long-held position as the world’s Space Superstar. For many reasons, I’ve long been in favor of promoting major international participation in human settlement of the solar system. And in 1992, with Otto Steinbronn of General Dynamics, proposed “Interspace,” an ESA-style global space organization that would feature equality among its key members (e.g., Europe, Russia, U.S., Japan, China). Movement in this direction would be a positive outcome of a temporary reduction of the Space Superstar Effect.

Obama apparently moved the manned exploration of Mars into the mid-2030s not because of the need to develop advanced propulsion systems (they are not essential, and could be developed sooner), but because there is no public demand for Mars now. And yet the Red Planet remains the next profoundly alluring space goal for humankind. Although leaving much to be desired as a comprehensive space strategy, Obama’s Mars policy is an astute psychological move consistent with the last 200+ years of great human explorations. The sequence of great explorations since Lewis and Clark has been guided by 2 criteria: 1) physical accessibility, and 2) mysterious newness; the sequence is: American Northwest (Lewis & Clark), Equatorial Africa (Dr. Livingstone), N and S poles (Peary and Amundsen), and the Moon (Apollo). In each case, physical accessibility became increasingly challenging (especially with the Moon!), and each target was enticingly new. Although we haven’t really begun to explore, develop, or colonize the Moon yet, Obama’s advisors may have sensed that humans to Mars definitely resonates with the American psyche. As Spudis emphasizes above, the Moon seems “been there, done that” to Obama, while Mars is NEW.

However, there is a problem with Obama’s suggestion of manned Mars in the mid-2030s. Great human explorations and MEPs — including space exploration — do not work like that. The extraordinary ebullience required for these projects is usually only momentary because of economic and military events. An unfortunate example was cancellation of the last 3 Apollo Moon missions due to Vietnam in the late 1960s.

Indeed, the lesson of the last 200 years is that the new Space Age is likely to begin near 2015 and extend through 2025, but not into the 2030s. Our best hope would be a robust, international Mars plan specifically focused on circumventing unfavorable long wave influences through the 2020s. The history of the International Space Station offers some hope in this regard.

And finally: Prosperity. Without it, no one will want to go to Mars (although they could). Over the last 200 years, the spectacular, rhythmic, twice-per-century Maslow Windows — including the 1960s — are always times of exceptional prosperity and widespread affluence. Regardless of financial realities, it’s the feeling of ebullience (what Keynes called “animal spirits”) that fundamentally drives public acceptance of great explorations and MEPs.

The real political question for Obama is: Can he put America back on the road to prosperity — the hallmark of all Maslow Windows — before he loses more political support? International economic and geopolitical forces will converge in the next 3 – 5 years and demand success. Although Obama’s political fate is still largely in his own hands, the economic and political parallels with the 1890s are intriguing.

For more perspective, please see: How President Obama is Creating the New Space Age.

2 responses so far

Aug 23 2009

Kepler, Carl Sagan, and the Guzman Prize — Our Century-Long Search for Space Aliens

Special thanks to Dr. Sean for vectoring me toward this week’s Newsweek.

Newsweek this week (8/24 & 31/09) features “In Search of Aliens” on its cover and uses NASA’s new $ 600 M Kepler spacecraft as our most recent attempt. On March 6 Kepler became the first spacecraft ever launched whose mission is to directly detect Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of nearby stars.

This is huge.

Kepler’s mission is among the most important in the history of space science. Click kepler.gif.

Although early science results already exist — the HAT-P-7 light curves — Kepler’s monumental significance is not yet fully appreciated by the global community. However, it will grow in global esteem as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window because Kepler feeds directly into 2 of the basic rationales driving near-term space colonization: 1) detection and international exploration of Earth-like planets, and 2) discovery of extraterrestrial life, especially intelligent space aliens. And it motivates the third: Human settlement of the solar system and beyond.

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, the way we currently search for extrasolar Earthlike planets (including their possible residents!) is with Kepler. But by 2015 we’ll have an even more sophisticated and powerful tool: the Terrestrial Planet Finder!

Of course, our search for space aliens didn’t start with Kepler, it goes back at least to the late 19th century discovery of canali on Mars by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. And as we scan the last century it becomes apparent that the public’s interest in space aliens has been modulated by the long wave. During times of economic upswings (especially during Maslow Windows) there is great interest in detecting and communicating with space aliens, but as the long wave plummets toward its trough between Maslow Windows, the public becomes more negative toward them.

During the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, astronomer Frank Drake launched ebullient radio searches for messages from space aliens, and popularized the “Drake Equation” — familiar to every introductory astronomy student — that attempted to estimate N: the number of high-tech civilizations in our Galaxy.

Interest in Drake’s seminal work encouraged the development of extraordinary NASA concepts for advanced searches (Project Cyclops). Bernard Oliver’s favorite featured a phased array of one thousand, 100 – meter radio attennas covering an area 10 km in diameter! Now that’s 1960s ebullience! It’s scope was exceeded only by its pricetag: $ 6 to 10 B.

Toward the end of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, a directed beam from the Kelvans, Kelinda and Rojan, in the Andromeda Galaxy could have theoretically been detected by Cyclops. Click kelvans.jpg.
© 1968 Paramount Pictures

Of course Project Cyclops was never built because it broke a fundamental rule for Macro-Engineering Projects: Never propose a multi-billion dollar MEP toward the end of a Maslow Window. The last 3 Apollo missions had already been canceled, and as the Apollo program wound down, there was little political or public interest in another MEP — no matter how exciting — that cost 1/2 of Apollo.

One of the most ebullient scientists of the late 20th century and maybe the best science popularizer of all time, Carl Sagan was not one to avoid the infectious ebullience of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window. In 1963 he wrote a scientific paper (Planetary and Space Science Vol. 11, May, 1963, pp. 485-498) asserting that space aliens could come here (and probably had already done so) in real interstellar spaceships and would be aided by relativisitic time dilation!

Although Cyclops became an early casualty of the collapsing Apollo Maslow Window, a much smaller version was eventually funded by NASA. Unfortunately, it was canceled by Congress in 1993 — a victim of the “Giggle Factor” as constituents began to ridicule the public-funded search for space aliens. This was only a few years before the long wave trough — an anti-ebullient time for sure.

During perhaps the most ebullient decade in US history — the Peary/Panama Maslow Window (1903-1913) — space alien fans had a field day. Lowell Observatory was founded to study Mars and its presumably modern, canal-based civilization. The Guzman Prize was offered to anyone who could prove contact with space aliens; But they couldn’t be from Mars because that was considered too easy! But that’s hardly surprising because the Wall Street Journal published an article in 1907 on “the proof by astronomical observations . . . that conscious, intelligent human life exists upon the planet Mars.” And some ebullient folks even suggested we should light huge fires at night to signal the Martians directly.

By contrast, during the Great Depression in 1938 — almost exactly one 56 year long wave before Congress canceled SETI — Orson Welles did his famous radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds, in which the Martians invaded New Jersey. It reportedly resulted in panic and mass hysteria.

Near long wave troughs we ridicule search attempts for space aliens (and cancel funding) or imagine the aliens actually attacking us; either way we’re pretty negative toward them. But as we approach Maslow Windows, such as the one in 2015, interest in space aliens picks up.

Just ask Newsweek.

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Jul 20 2009

Tom Wolfe's "Giant Leap to Nowhere"

Today Tom Wolfe (New York Times, 7/19/09) added his name to the growing list of commentators who are frustrated and puzzled by the Apollo Moon program’s abrupt end almost 40 years ago, and even more so by the fact that no human has traveled beyond Earth orbit since 1972!

Tom Wolfe asks today if we’ve lost the “right stuff.” Click mercury7.jpg.

1972 was a LONG time ago. If you’re over 40 years old, think about where you were then and what you were doing. (Those under 40 are excused from this exercise.)

Most of my reply to Wolfe’s op-ed has already been published at “The Secret of Why Apollo Was a ‘Giant Step, Full Stop’” so I won’t repeat it here. But because Wolfe did write The Right Stuff (1979), the celebrated story of the Mercury 7 astronauts (made into a movie in 1983), his take is interesting.

Although it was a small step for Neil and a giant leap for mankind, the first Moon landing was “a real knee in the groin for NASA,” according to Wolfe.

The American space program, the greatest, grandest, most Promethean — O.K. if I use “godlike”? — quest in the history of the world died in infancy … the moment the foot of Apollo 11′s Commander Armstrong touched the surface of the Moon.

How did this uber downer happen?

Maybe because he’s a writer, Wolfe thinks “the answer is obvious. NASA had neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers.” By the mid-1970s the only philosopher who could explain the real importance of Apollo was the developer of the Saturn V, Wernher von Braun, who was dying of cancer. But according to Wolfe, Von Braun’s “heavy German accent” and former WW II nazi connections limited his use.

In fact, based on the last 200 years of Great Explorations and MEPs, the moral of the story appears to be: “Great leaders help, but the economy rules“. It is very unlikely Von Braun himself or even an army of Von Brauns could have changed the course of 1970s macroeconomic history or the related decay of Apollo ebullience that began as early as 1966. As they have for every Maslow Window of the last 200 years, these fundamental factors initially enabled and eventually terminated the Apollo program and have kept humanity trapped in Earth orbit since 1972.

Wolfe alludes to the short-lived effect of ebullience without using the term, “Everybody, including Congress, was caught up in the adrenal rush of it all. But then, on the morning after” they began to wonder about it’s real meaning. This effect is graphically portrayed in the riveting 1960s political history, The Liberal Hour.

According to Wolfe, the answer is Mars. “For 40 years, everybody at NASA has known that the only logical next step is a manned Mars mission…” However, current plans — the U.S. returning to the Moon by 2020 — ignore historical trends of the last 200 years which point to closure of our next Maslow Window by 2025 or before, leaving little time for Mars. Unless we change the plan, such as Buzz Aldrin has proposed lately, our next shot at Mars may be delayed until 2070.

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